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Maxim Vengerov – Living the Dream
Bonus material – Vengerov playing Wieniawski in concert in Moscow
Produced, directed and filmed by Ken Howard
NTSC 16:9, Disc Format DVD-5, Linear PCM stereo, all regions, Subtitles D, F
EMI CLASSICS 5034029 [71:00]

Experience Classicsonline


I remember seeing this documentary on British television though I don’t think the bonus feature was aired, at least not in full. It’s devoted to Vengerov’s “Sabbatical Year.” He had reached thirty and in 2005 withdrew from his hectic performance schedule to study jazz improvisation with Didier Lockwood in Paris. It coincided with the writing of a concerto for Vengerov by the Israeli composer Benjamin Yusupov which required Vengerov to play the viola, the electric violin and dance the tango. Can’t see Milstein ever have done that – but then Vengerov is a charmer and open to offers.
 
The film is a collage of sights and sounds. We move from Abbey Road in London to Moscow to Siberia, Istanbul, Amsterdam, Galilee, Hanover, and Paris. We eavesdrop on the recording session of the Beethoven Concerto with Rostropovich, and the cameras were in situ some months before when the two men met for a piano accompanied run through of the work in Vienna. Whether you think the results the acme of sublime depth or catatonic boredom is matter of taste I suppose, though I incline to the latter view. What’s not in doubt is the strength of feeling that existed between the two men. I like Rostropovich’s instruction to Vengerov in Vienna “ No, you are being too selfish there.” 
 
The Moscow concerts reveal an unusual slice of repertory – Kreisler’s arrangement for violin of the eighteenth variation from Rachmaninoff’s Paganini variations; Ian Brown of the Nash Ensemble is the trusty pianist throughout. We see Vengerov’s parents, drop in on a convivial evening at the parental apartment, hear from his first teacher and see snippets from a Vengerov-led master class or two. Perhaps the most poignant of all scenes are those set in his home town of Novosibirsk in Siberia, snow covered and still exerting a powerful pull on the violinist’s imagination; he talks of the feel of a snowball in one’s hand as Proust talked of madeleines.  These youthful memories are reinforced by an old film of Vengerov as a child, wearing a white smock, playing Schubert’s Rondo. His old friend and colleague, Vadim Repin is briefly interviewed – and there are shots of the two boys fiddling away together for dear life, summoning up those antique duels between Leopold Auer’s students. Rightly there’s a brief clip of Zakhar Bron, their teacher, in an old teaching film.
 
Vengerov was so coiled a player that, like perhaps most classical soloists, he couldn’t play and tap his foot at the same time. This made for difficulties with Didier Lockwood whose class he joined. Lockwood is a laid back soul, in favour of finding the inner child and nurturing it against life’s vicissitudes, but he clearly encouraged Vengerov. The tango lessons reveal his charming, straightforward approach to matters beyond the violinistic and this is well contrasted with the more serious business of meeting Yusupov in Israel to have preliminary discussions on the concerto. Vengerov lived in Galilee from the age of sixteen and his sense of affinity with the landscape and country is unaffected and touching.
 
Quite a large part of the programme is given over to rehearsals for – and segments from the performance of – the Viola Tango Rock Concerto. This was given in Hanover where I doubt they could quite anticipate the funkier aspects of tango, lighting effects and Harley Davidson simulating electric violin. Vengerov certainly seems to measure up in the tango stakes in the final movement where he sheds his viola, his bullish masculinity matched by the feline sexuality  - this stuff is catching – of his tango partner, the liquid and beautiful Christiana Pahla.
 
The bonus is a complete performance of Wieniawski’s Op.15 Variations on an original theme with Ian Brown, filmed in the Moscow Conservatory, where Wieniawski taught for three years.
 
So, with batteries recharged, his Sabbatical over, Vengerov hopes to conquer new mountains with renewed vision. It will be interesting to see which areas of the repertoire he will pursue, with which conductors - now that Rostropovich is dead - he will forge true alliances, and how intensively he will embrace the chamber repertoire – trio as well as sonata work. Time, as they say, will tell.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 


 


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